To create a menu for at-home listeners of our broadcast of Handel's Messiah on Christmas Eve, we reached out to Alex Belew, the head chef at Dallas and Jane in Murfreesboro.
Belew was no stranger to the music, having sung in choir throughout high school. He said that for him, listening to it now was almost nostalgic.
He was inspired to create a warm and hearty Christmas-themed menu, and starting with a mushroom bisque was a nod to Handel's English sensibilities.
"It's a warm, umami, kind of soul-feeding soup."
But not all of the food is from England. The focus of the meal is a braised lamb shank, with an Israeli cous-cous on the side – inspired by the Christian scripture that is the foundation of the piece, stating, "Jesus was the Lamb of God," and by the setting of the biblical story in Messiah. It was also a practical choice since the lamb shank goes in the oven and passively cooks on low heat throughout the afternoon.
"Braising is probably my favorite cooking technique. It's taking a very inexpensive and tough cut of meat and cooking it low and slow."
Belew's advice to the home chef? "Start early and use paper plates" because dishwashing time is time that should be spent with family.
- Mushroom bisque (recipe below)
- Rosemary cream
- Torn croutons
- Braised lamb shank
- Yogurt sauce
- Israeli couscous
- Egg custard tart
- Carmelized apples
- Whipped marscapone cream
Mushroom bisque recipe
- 2 qts. vegetable stock/broth
- 1/2 oz. dried shiitake mushrooms
- 4 tbsp. butter
- 1 large onion, sliced thinly
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed
- 1 leek, thinly sliced, washed
- 1 Yukon potato, peeled and sliced thinly
- 1 lb. button mushrooms, sliced
- 1 lb. oyster/bella/crimini/mushroom blend (whatever you can find will work)
- 1/4 C white wine
- 1/2 C heavy cream
- Salt and pepper to taste
Heat vegetable stock in a pot. Add dried mushrooms and allow to steep for 20 minutes, creating a mushroom broth. Strain out mushrooms and chop finely.
Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Sweat onions and potatoes for 5-7 minutes until translucent. Add leeks and garlic and cook out for another 5 minutes. Add mushrooms and cook until they begin to soften and lose their moisture. Season with salt and pepper. Add the white wine and reduce by 1/2. Add in the mushroom broth and simmer for 10 minutes, then add the heavy cream. Bring to a boil and cook for 3 minutes. Puree soup with a blender or a stick blender. Season to taste and enjoy.
Soup can be made 3 days in advance. Reheat over medium heat while whisking to serve.
Listen to the full audio story for a description of how to prepare braised lamb shank, as well as more behind Alex Belew's inspiration for this menu.
91Classical's broadcast of last year's Nashville Symphony performance of Handel's Messiah is Dec. 24 at 8 p.m.
Alex Belew is the head chef at Dallas and Jane in Murfreesboro.